Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Michael Ansara and Tony Curtis confront the Unknown
THE MANITOU (1978). Director: William Girdler.

Fake San Francisco spiritualist Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis) learns that an old girlfriend of his, Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg), has a little bit of a problem. She has a tumor growing on her back, it's getting larger, and it appears to be a fetus! Erskine discovers that the fetus is the reborn spirit of a nasty Indian medicine man, and enlists the aid of a modern-day equivalent, John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara), to fight the medicine man and the evil gods it conjures. Their only allies are the spirits -- or "manitous" -- of the objects around them. Before long the hospital has become a battle zone as they fight for Karen Tandy's soul amidst corpses turned inside out, frozen, decapitated nurses, and other signs of murder and mayhem. The movie, based on a novel by Graham Masterton, has an interesting cast: Besides the aforementioned actors we've got Ann Sothern (a medium), Stella Stevens, Burgess Meredith (anthropologist Dr, Snow), Lurene Tuttle (a client of Erskine's who takes a tumble) and even Jeanette Nolan. Jon Cedar, who associate-produced and worked on the screenplay, plays Dr. Hughes. Curtis' pants are almost as tight as the ones worn by Robert Conrad in The Wild, Wild West! There are a lot of interesting elements to this movie, and it holds the attention, but somehow it doesn't completely jell. Cedar was also in Girdler's Day of the Animals.

Verdict: Not without interest, but somehow less than the sum of its parts. **1/2.


dj Buddy Beaverhausen said...

Very, very tacky. I thought Tony Curtis could barely disguise his embarrassment.

William said...

I think at that point Curtis was just happy to have a starring role. A far cry from "Sweet Smell of Success," in which he was excellent.

Neil A Russell said...

I always thought they turned Curtis loose to do a lot of ad libbing in this, there's very much of his quick witted personality in the character.
This long after seeing it (in the theater, yes I bought a ticket to this) about all I can remember is his calling the ancient evil "Mixmaster" and wondering then if that was really in the script.
I also thought Michael Ansara's character was a lot of fun considering how serious and deadpan he played it. Which of course was the only characterization Ansara has, but it added to the entertainment.
"Manitou" is pretty much a guilty pleasure movie, but there were episodes of "Night Stalker" that were better.

William said...

Yes, Curtis get saying "mixmaster" instead of Misquemacas -- or something like that -- and it could have been an ad lib. Funny what you said about Ansara, and now that I think about it, very true!

I not only bought a ticket to this, I bought the book (previously). Tried reading it a second time and couldn't do it.

Neil A Russell said...

The 70s were a great era for novel adaptations to film, I remember reading Airport and The Poseidon Adventure and nitpicking the films.
Little did I know how poorly they would do the adaptations a few decades later!